Scene4 Magazine — International Magazine of Arts and Media
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february 2008


by Andrea Kapsaski

Beauty, ugliness, gracefulness, gaudiness and similar aesthetic properties are real features of public things and it appears that whether these features are present is a matter of fact that can be empirically investigated. By looking at the opposing non-realistic views of Subjectivism, Non-cognitive, and Relativism, what inclines most people to hold non-realistic views in aesthetics, such as the fluctuations of taste in fashion?

The aesthetic value of some things is due to their relations to other things and that relation may be temporal, resulting in the need for a temporal point for the correct temporal angle from which to view things.

So what is beauty, or to put it into a different way: what is a so-called “freak?”

I recently saw once again Tod Browning’s breath-taking film Freaks, based on Tod Robbins' short story Spurs.

A trapeze artist, Cleopatra, marries a sideshow small person, Hans, for his inheritance.

At their wedding reception, the other "freaks" resolve that they will accept Cleopatra in spite of her being a "normal" outsider, and hold an initiation ceremony, wherein they pass a massive goblet of wine around the table while chanting: "We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble! One of us! One of us!"

The ceremony frightens the drunken Cleopatra, who reveals that she has been having an affair with Hercules and begins to mock them. Despite being humiliated, Hans remains with Cleopatra. Shortly thereafter, he is taken ill from poison that Cleopatra slipped him and she continues to pour poison into his medicine in order to kill him and take his money. One of the circus performers overhears Cleopatra talking to Hercules about the murder plot. The “freaks” attack Cleopatra and Hercules with guns, knives, and various weapons, hideously mutilating them. The film concludes with a revelation of Cleopatra's fate: Her tongue cut out, one eye gouged and legs hacked off, she has been reduced to performing in a sideshow as the imbecile squawking human duck.


Tod Browning took the exceptional step of casting real people with deformities rather than using costumes and makeup. Having been himself a member of a traveling circus in his early years, he drew a great deal from his personal experiences in order to portray the classic moral of how outer beauty does not necessarily equate to inner beauty.

Thus in his film, the physically deformed "freaks" are inherently trusting and honourable people, while the real monsters are two of the "normal" members of the circus who conspire to murder one of the performers to obtain a large inheritance.

Reaction to this film was so intense that Browning had trouble finding work afterwards and his career was almost brought to an end.

Because its deformed cast was shocking to moviegoers at the time, the film was banned in the United Kingdom for thirty years.

What is so shocking about a human being with a deformation, what is bad about small people or people with different features from what one sees on a daily basis?

Looking at the rising numbers of (not only) women undergoing Stallone_freakcrplastic surgery, and the number of boob and nose jobs, liposuction and face liftings, who is the “freak”?

This obsession with eternal youth and perfection, that aims to make everyone look the same, what is the message behind that?

I understand that being an actor is a tough job and that close-ups reveal more than one might want to show, but ageing is a natural process and should be seen as that.

Nothing is more ridiculous than a 65 year-old woman pretending to look 28, and nothing more sad than a deformed face due to surgery gone wrong.

Talking about freaks? There you go.

In 1994, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Wouldn’t it be beautiful, if we had more films with that label?



©2008 Andrea Kapsaski
©2008 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Andrea Kapsaski is a writer and producer
and a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


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